I'd like to start off by mentioning a promise I made to my English teacher two years ago.
Mr. Best, there are no Dr. Seuss quotations in this speech.
Anyways ... giving a speech, a single speech to sum up four years of my life. It is a task not easily accomplished. So, I suppose I shall begin at the bottom and work my way up.
Let's go to my first day of classes, which was both exciting and terrifying. There I was, before the first bell rang, waiting outside Ms. Reed's World History class. I had heard dozens of accounts of how high school was like, and they all buzzed around my head: junior high teachers, friends, older students, family, and of course television. By the way, Disney Channel ... you're a bit off the mark ... a lot.
Since that first day of school, I've had 719 more days, and each one brought something new. I discovered my affinity for writing, which I now pursue as a hobby. I made friends and lost friends, and discovered an endless spectrum of viewpoints. Most importantly, however, I learned something every day, directly or indirectly, that came to define me. And it is this fact I wish to address.
Our educational system today faces criticism from every angle. One of the most common complaints is that schools do not do enough to prepare youth for the future. They point to our test scores that fall below the global average as evidence for their argument. But these scores only tell part of the story. Just like you shouldn't judge “Romeo and Juliet” based only on the balcony scene (another thing I learned: the play is not nearly as romantic as you're led to believe), we cannot judge our educational institutions based on this single statistic.
What makes the United States unique is our egalitarian attitude towards education. The reason that Asia and Europe seem to trounce us in mathematics is that not everyone gets to go to high school in those countries. You must test into secondary education; if you fail the test, you don't get a chance to improve. So of course their country averages will be higher. It isn't that we don't try hard enough — it's that they won't bother.
That is why our school system is to be praised. We do not appreciate the idea of public education nearly as well as we should. In Asia and Europe, they only educate those who are already above average. In the United States, we educate everyone, a far heavier and yet more honorable burden to lie upon such a system. Every teacher we have gives us another little tidbit to keep us going through life. Sometimes it is very direct: the Pythagorean Theorem, or how to write a letter. But sometimes, it is more indirect, such as the importance of getting work done on time, or the value of actually reading instructions before you begin a task.
One of the most dramatic experiences I've had was in my sophomore year, in Spanish Ill. Now, I was not the most proficient Spanish student; I felt so proud when I earned a "B" for the semester. I was, therefore, surprised when Senora Beltran gave me a Legacy of Excellence award for "Best Spanish Ill Student.” But why? I pondered the question to myself for days, and then I suddenly realized: It was not my grade which had earned me the award.
The "A" students in her class tended to be the ones who already knew Spanish fairly welt while I had to work my rear end off to get my "B". That's when I understood. It isn't about ability. It's about effort, it's about dedication. Senora Beltran recognized me for the labor I put into my studies. That stuck with me, and it will for years to come.
Ladies and gentlemen, what you see before you are not just hundreds of students. What you see are minds, like gardens. They were born bare, empty, and with a tendency to cry a lot.
You, the parents and family, planted the initial seeds of ideas there, and you nurtured them through the first years of life. Then came kindergarten, and the soil was tended then by not only your hands, but the hands of dozens of educators, each bringing something different to the fields. And now, eighteen years later, two-thirds of that time shared with a public school, we stand before you, bearing the fruits of knowledge and wisdom. To all the teachers here today, and those that aren't, I say: thank you. And to you, my classmates, I say: happy harvesting.